When the Gates Foundation finally crunches all the numbers from its two-year research project, that is what it will discover. Great teaching is not quantifiable. As dorky as this sounds, great teaching happens by magic. It isn’t something that can be taught. I’m not even sure that good teaching can be taught. The only thing that I know can be taught is average teaching, and almost anybody who has paid attention through all those interminable hours in school classrooms and is willing to work hard can pull that off.
Now I will attempt to give you the keys to great teaching. The fact that I understand the irony and hypocrisy in that statement makes it almost forgivable. And I will add a huge disclaimer: It is possible to talk about great teaching without being a great teacher yourself, which is the position I find myself in. I taught for almost 35 years and am still amazed that I wasn’t fired during my first four. The fact that I managed to stay in the profession so long could, I suppose, be an indictment of the tenure system.
But, on the other hand, my various supervisors’ indulgence during those first rocky years gave me the chance to get better. That is the one thing I can say for sure about my career.
Every year made me a better teacher. I could even go so far as to say that every year made me love teaching more. Of course, every year also made me hate schools more. There is no contradiction there.
The thing to do now is to make a list. Everyone likes lists. Educators are particularly taken by them. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times that just the act of making a list during a faculty meeting served to convince us that a problem was solved.
So, Bill and Melinda, listen up. Here are 10 qualities of a great teacher:
(1) has a sense of humor;
(2) is intuitive;
(3) knows the subject matter;
(4) listens well;
(5) is articulate;
(6) has an obsessive/compulsive side;
(7) can be subversive;
(8) is arrogant enough to be fearless;
(9) has a performer’s instincts;
(10) is a real taskmaster.
There, see how easy that was? And inexpensive to boot.
What Makes A Great Teacher?
I have always told my students that if you are funny you are smart. Being funny takes brains. I have also said that being a good teacher is not rocket science; it's more like art. The Gates Foundation and other reformers think they can research their way to knowing what a great teacher is. James D. Starkey helps them: